Renown waterfowl photographer Gary Kramer is back with lots of amazing new stories gleaned while putting together his legendary Waterfowl of the World and beyond. He takes us ’round-the-world, covering recent bucket-list trips like Antartica penguin watching and Greenland king eider hunting, as well as photo safariing India wild tigers, Morocco red-crested pochards and ever-elusive masked ducks. Bringing it home, he describes balancing photographing with shotgunning and how both have shaped his understanding of waterfowl.

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Everything You Need to Know About Worldwide Waterfowl Species

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, joining me today is Mr. Gary Kramer, Waterfowl of the World. And you all listen up he’s been on here before and I’m glad to have him back. Gary, how the heck are you, man?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, I’m doing good today. How are you doing, Ramsey?

Ramsey Russell: I’m good. I saw you get convention. I always do. I didn’t see you for long, though. It was busy. You walked the aisles. You see a lot of people at that SCI convention. How busy was it from your perspective?

Gary Kramer: It seemed pretty busy to me. I mean my standard procedure is when I go to SCI or Dallas is I stop and talk to the folks I want to talk to and a lot of these past people I’ve been with guides, outfitters, looking for new things and then I kind of roam the aisle. But it looked pretty busy and pretty good to me. What did you think?

Ramsey Russell: I thought it was off the rails. It was the busiest show I’ve ever been to. Now, I will say this Dallas Safari Club was busier than I can ever remember. But when they moved that SCI convention to Nashville, put it right in the wheelhouse of overwhelming majority of folks in the United States that are listening could just pick up in a truck and drive. It just went through the roof. I’ve never been so busy in my life and I enjoyed every single second of it. No doubt about it.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, it was a good one.

Ramsey Russell: I know you’ve been very busy since the last time I talked to you. And one of the questions I want to start off with is, where have you been since. Okay, now, last time you were on, we talked about Waterfowl of the World, the book and we’re going to talk more about some of the adventures involved in that book today. But where have you been since? What have you done since that book was published in terms of photography, where have you been going?

Photographing Waterfowl in the Antarctic Peninsula

 It’s the most amazing thing from a wildlife spectacle that maybe I’ve ever seen.

Gary Kramer: Well, that book finally came out in December of 21, so it’s been out for a little over a year. And that was a 4 year effort went to 40 countries in 36 months and finally got that bad boy done and written, published and out there to the public and it’s doing excellent. But since that time, I’ve been to a number of places and a couple of these are just bucket list places that I haven’t had time to do. I went and did an Antarctica cruise in December. I only do it once in my life, but that was the last continent that I needed to go to have all the continents. So I did what amounted to a 2 week cruise in Antarctica and went to South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and photographed of all things. Mostly penguins but just something I wanted to do and I did that. And then I also do photo safari.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve never been to Antarctica. I’ve never been that’s this continent I lack, too. I haven’t been because there ain’t no ducks to shoot. But what did you do when you were there? Tell me about that experience and tell me about getting there, because that’s not an easy place to get to, is it?

Gary Kramer: No, no, it’s not it. The one that I went to, which is the most common. I wanted to go to South Georgia. Some of the Antarctic cruises don’t go there, but South Georgia is way out in the ocean and it’s the location where you’ve seen these photos on the National Geographic channel, where somebody’s up on a hill and you look down and as far as the eye can see are king penguins like, I don’t know, 200,000 of them. So that’s one of the places I want to go. So what I did is flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, down at Tierra del Fuego. That’s kind of step one. And then you have to get on a boat on a ship, it’s a cruise and the cruises vary all the way from, I don’t know, maybe 80 people to some giant cruise ships which are too much for me and I picked one of the smaller ones, went to South Georgia and that’s a 3 day run, nonstop run night and day through some of the roughest oceans in the world. Luckily on my trip it was really pretty calm. So the seas were great. Then you get there, South Georgia and you make numerous landings during the course of the next 3 days. They’re all zodiacs. You get on a zodiac off the big ship, cruise to the beach and then you get out and the penguins, I’m telling you, they greet you on the beach. I mean, there’s thousands of them. It’s the most amazing thing from a wildlife spectacle that maybe I’ve ever seen.

Ramsey Russell: Are they skittish and like scared of you if you walk up –

Gary Kramer: No.

Ramsey Russell: They stay close because they don’t really have like human predators down there, do they?

Gary Kramer: Well, they have no predators at all, really. So they have no fear of almost anything. I mean, the young, few of the young are taken by – there’s a couple of predatory seabird skewers that will take them, but there’s no land predators at all. So therefore they become, I mean, literally, they want you to stay 6ft from them, but they’ll walk up to you within 2ft or 3ft. I didn’t even take a big lens. I took kind of a medium lens. And they just have no fear of humans whatsoever. It’s very much like the Galapagos in the fact that there’s no land press, so there’s these tens of thousands of penguins. And over the course of both South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, you get about 5 species that you can actually see and get close to. So that’s what kind of happened a lot of time on the beach. There were some cruising and zodiacs along the shoreline where you could photograph. Of course, there’s seals that you can see and sea lions and leopard seals and things like that. Then there’s a host of seabirds, I mean, a tremendous number of other seabirds that nest there. So it was really a natural history cruise that I did, which was super interesting. Then from there we went to the Antarctic Peninsula and spent about 3 days and then it was 2 and a half, 3 days back. So 15 day cruise, you spend about 6 days going to land and the rest is all cruising in the ocean. You’re better like boats.

Ramsey Russell: When you do a trip like that. Okay, 3 days to get there. How long were you all, like, anchored offshore? Because I’m assuming you anchor offshore and then take little ferries out to the island and look around and stuff and then come back to the boat. So you got like a couple of days there. Is that kind of how that works?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, what you do is the big boat anchors and then you get in the zodiacs, outboard powered zodiacs and they put about 10 people in each one. Then they take you to the beach and you get out, walk around for a few hours and you do that for about 3 days in South Georgia, let’s say and about 3 days in the Antarctic Peninsula. And the rest is boat riding out of the 15 days because you got to go a long, long ways.

Ramsey Russell: That sounds amazing.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, I was a bucket list.

Ramsey Russell: How cold was it?

Gary Kramer: Surprisingly enough, I went in December, which is essentially their June, therefore the penguins had babies and so on. And it’s usually the best weather of the year, although it can be cold and there were icebergs and ice everywhere, but we had very good weather. Probably freezing at night, but during the day it got up into the 400. Pretty comfortable for being at the end of the earth.

World Waterfowl Photo Safaris

But it’s people that are really interested in wildlife.

Ramsey Russell: That sounds like a pretty cool experience. And then you do photo safaris. Tell me about your photo safaris.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, that one was just a trip with a buddy of mine and I, because I wanted to do it, but then I do photo safaris and I did one this last February in Tanzania. Generally I take 12 people as an escorted trip. I have them get to the point of departure, which is Arusha, Tanzania and then we do basically a 12 day or so safari. Go to the Ngorongoro Crater, which is probably the highest density of wildlife in the world. Tremendous, I’ve seen in one day, I’ve seen 30 lions in one day in the crater. And these are escorted wildlife trips. The folks that come are not hardcore photographers. It’s everything from cell phones to big lenses. But it’s people that are really interested in wildlife. And as a result of that, I always get up earlier, earlier than the average person at those lodges. Get out there at sunrise, get the photos and then take a midday break and then again in the evening, because in the middle of the day it’s just hot and the animals are pretty lethargic. Then I go into the Serengeti, where I stay in a couple of different camps there. One of them is a tent camp called a migration camp. No fences, no nothing. And it’s right where the migration is. And in early February, I pick that time because that’s the peak of the wildebeest migration that’s coming out of Kenya and going to Tanzania in the south. So there’s couple of 100,000. I don’t know, 500,000. Thousands upon thousands of wildebeest. And the tent camp is set right in the middle of this. So you get tremendous viewing photography, predator prey interaction. And the wildebeests are calving at that time of year. So you get that action going on, too. So I did that. Then after that I had a busy March. I went to Greenland, which I’ve heard of and I think you have too, for king eiders and common eiders.

Ramsey Russell: Yes.

Gary Kramer: And I did that.

Ramsey Russell: I’m going to ask you and it’s okay if you don’t. But I get asked a lot about going to hunt king eiders in Greenland. And in the past 12 months I get asked a lot. And I’ve done my research for 10 years. I’ve talked to 4 outfitters down there and fished it out without putting boots on the ground, but talked and talked and talked and I almost pulled the trigger on going in 2019. In fact, I accepted some deposits to go and scout the hunt with me and then ended up sending the money back. And the last time I was asked it was in a public forum, was actually in seminar at SCI and somebody asked me about it, I said, a small part of me, I feel like I missed the ship. Maybe I’m getting old and long in the tooth. Just when I started hearing all the buzz and everybody calling about it, I was like, man, I may have missed the ship. I may have missed the ship on this one, but my gut feeling, from what I think of king eider hunting Gary, my gut feeling is that it’s a titanic. It’s not what I think of king eider hunting to be or should be. And I’ve heard from several sources that the modus operandi of how no matter what they’re saying you’re going to do or how you’re going to do it or what kind of decoys and hand carved sets you bring at the end of the day, the way they hunt them over there is running gun, running them down in freaking speedboats and shooting them. Is that accurate or is that just my imagination?

Gary Kramer: No. I wanted to experience once myself, too. I’ve been to St. Paul with you and I know what that’s like. So I have a comparison and I’ve photographed them in a bunch of places. But as far as hunting, I only have one other experience, although I did kill one years ago, 25 years ago in Kodiak island. And that’s what I have mounted. Yeah. Back in the day, we saw maybe 2 small groups and drifted on them, got upwind and let the boat drift and then got to shut the engine off, of course. And then they end up flying upwind and bay. And I got a nice king, which I have mounted. I tell you what, Greenland has potential. But you’re right. The way that they hunt the kings is not over decoys. It is using a boat. And apparently in Greenland the law says that you cannot chase them at high speed, but you can actually shoot from a boat as it’s moving along. And that’s –

Ramsey Russell: Under motor power is what in other words. Yeah.

Gary Kramer: Under motor power, it’s legal. And that’s what they do. Having said that, everybody pretty much got a king. But it wasn’t a lot. It wasn’t like it was a tremendous bunch. I mean, you aren’t going to shoot 4 each.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gary Kramer: So that occurred. It was under power, which is legal. I specifically asked them and talked to several people. It was a very good king eider hunt over decoys. No, excuse me, I’m sorry. A common eider hunt over decoys.

Ramsey Russell: I’m not throwing rocks in glass houses. Now, people, listen up. I am not throwing rocks and glass houses. I have shot eiders under motor power in Russia, out on the White Sea. I felt like James Bond chasing down the Batsby bouncing through those 4 foot waves in a little speedboat and holding on for dear life with one hand and shooting with the other. But it just – I don’t know. I think there’s better, more ethical ways. What I worry about, Gary and I’m not trying to fall this rabbit hole because I want to talk about you and your photography. But what I worry about is that, that kind of hunting over a large scale, just even though it may be unique to their culture and how they do it when in Rome. Right. I just don’t see how cracking shots at moving birds with a moving boat on a bouncing sea could not generate more cripples than normal. You know I’m saying? It just ain’t my cup of tea, so I’m just going to leave it that.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, no, I agree with you. And like I said, not having done it. And one of the things that I’m like you, Ramsey, I mean, I love the new experiences. I’ve been all over the world hunting ducks and obviously photographing all over the world. And it’s some of that newness that I really look for. And I just wanted to see and do it once in my life kind of like Antarctica. I wanted to photograph it once, but I think you’re right. The boats, they aren’t little boats. They’re usually like 30 foot boats and they’re moving along and that’s how it happens and that’s just the way it is. I don’t think it’s ever going to be a huge thing. I don’t know. There’s 2 different outfits that apparently are doing it, so that’s kind of the way it worked. And then we did have some good common eider. They were the borealis subspecies that we did shoot over decoys, and that was quite good. It’s a long way to go. It’s not cheap. On and on and on, bringing them back is more of a hassle than it is from anywhere in the US because you got to have a USDA approved taxidermist that’s willing to accept them. So there’s more to it. It’s like bringing birds back from other places that you go to, Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Gary, have you ever – I’m sure you have, but have you ever been to the Amazon?

Gary Kramer: I have. I’ve been there 3 times peacock bass fishing.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Have you ever been on any of your photo safaris or any, while you were collecting Waterfowl of the World?

Gary Kramer: No, I didn’t. I only went to the Amazon and the very outskirts of it in Colombia. And I was there for Waterfowl of the World specifically to photograph Orinoco geese, which are a tropical species that’s found in the Amazon basin. But where I got them was in actually Colombia, the very eastern part of Colombia, which is the edge of the Amazon basin. I’ve been to Brazil a bunch of times to photograph and to fish. But in the Amazon, I’ve been peacock bass fishing there 3 times. One was strictly fly rod, the other 2 were conventional. And then I’ve been to the edge of the Amazon for the Orinoco goose, which I got in spades. I mean, it was outstanding.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve never even seen that goose. Are they like an Andean goose or kind of like a Magellan goose, a shell goose, is that what they are?

Gary Kramer: Yes, they’re a shell goose. Like an Andean or an upland or Magellan goose. Yeah, they are a shell goose. And they have that stance, how they kind of stand up a little bit different than other geese and they look a little different and they fit that mold, but they’re very tropical. And the place I found it was an old cattle ranch that was converted to an ecotourism place. They took most of the – well, there’s still cows on there, but they had tourists for bird watching and things like that. But I just singled it out because I knew they had Orinoco and they had plenty of them, plus I was able to get Brazilian ducks there and some other species. I was also looking for wild muscovies, but I didn’t see any there.

Ramsey Russell: That’s why. That’s what made me think. No we started off talking about bucket list places. I scratched off a bucket list place this year, I went down to Ria Negro. I did the peacock bass fishing. And I have seen pato real or wild muscovies. I’ve seen them in parts of Mexico, parts of northern Argentina. I’ve seen them in Guatemala, where sometimes they’re lawful to shoot under permit. We got down to the Amazon and there were days I felt like I was in the universal epicenter, the nexus of pato real and never saw so many of them. And I just wondered if that’s where –

Gary Kramer: Really?

Ramsey Russell: Oh, gosh, they were everywhere.

Gary Kramer: Well, I saw a few where I ended up photographed them –

Ramsey Russell: Now go ahead.

Rare Duck Species Across the World

And what I did is in a couple of different places, I pinned it down where they literally knew a small wetland that had maybe 10 masked ducks on it. 

Gary Kramer: Yeah, I saw a few of them in the Amazon, but where I photographed the most of them was kind of in, I would say, south central Brazil. I went there to photograph a number of species and masked ducks was one of them. They were tough.

Ramsey Russell: How did you target masked duck? Because they got a very localized range. They don’t migrate, really. I would think that a masked duck would be one of the hardest species for you to pin down and then go get a picture of. I just would, because something about them. They’re not particularly common.

Gary Kramer: No, they’re not. They’re very widespread. They’re found all the way from the Caribbean islands down through central South America, probably to southern Brazil. But as you said, for people that don’t know, they’re a ruddy duck type of critter, but they’re even more secretive than ruddy ducks. They’re found in these very small little wetlands. They almost never fly around. They don’t migrate much. And the only way I found them was dealing with – most of the guides that I hired for Waterfowl of the World book were locals. Most of them were bird watching guides. Folks come to see the birds and they want to get a big list of birds to check off. But I would be very specific and ask I would say, I would tell them, this is a very dedicated trip. I’m only looking for waterfowl, ducks, geese and swans. And these are the ones that I think you might have. And what I did is in a couple of different places, I pinned it down where they literally knew a small wetland that had maybe 10 masked ducks on it. And I would literally go to that one point on a map, get the guide and go to that pond and lo and behold, they were there. But you have to know specifically where they’re at, got to have local knowledge. And that’s what put me on to them. And my best photography was in two different places, kind of in south central Brazil. One of them was a fairly large wetland and one of them was a little tiny pond that was no more than 6 or 8 acres.

Ramsey Russell: Describe the habitat you found those ducks in. Was it shallow? Was it deep? What was it?

Gary Kramer: It’s always the same. It’s always heavily vegetated, oftentimes covered with water lilies or surface vegetation of some kind. And people describe them as very grebe like. They’re found in this heavy vegetation and then they’ll just literally sink into the water like a grebe. They don’t fly away from you, they swim away from you. And the places that I went, they were not super wary. So one place I was able to approach them from the land and literally lay on the bank and wait till they would surface among some real pretty vegetation, where there were some flowers even blooming above the water. So it’s a cool shot. Then the other one was from a boat and we just have to sit and wait on them. And it was a lot of patience and waiting. But they’re very secretive bird. I mean, if you went by a wetland, unless you were looking for them, you probably wouldn’t see them.

Ramsey Russell: What about maccoa ducks? Which are a cousin of theirs. What about the maccoa ducks over in Africa?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, they’re a cousin of theirs. Another ruddy type, another stiff tail, as they call them. And they’re kind of the same thing. Although the ones that I saw, I did see them in a bit more open water. I didn’t see them in that heavy vegetation like you do a masked duck. And I never saw a lot of them. I don’t know. Have you seen lots of them, Ramsey when you have been there to shoot?

Ramsey Russell: That’s why I asked you about the habitat, because the ruddy ducks that I’ve seen from Mexico to Minnesota have all been in what I would describe as deeper water.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, for sure.

Ramsey Russell: Because they dive when we started. For years, I’ve been wanting to scratch off the list, just to collect maccoa ducks. And I’ve gotten all the other species over there that you can harvest. And I’ve got an outfitter that has never seen one in his life. His dad hadn’t seen one in 20 years. So I put my other guide, Mike and he says, I’ll do my best to find one. And a few years ago, he called me up, excited and said, fingers crossed, they stick. But I got a pair sitting on a stock tank. He said and it’s shallow, but they’re there and they’ve been there for a couple of weeks. The question is, will they be there for another 6 weeks before you get here? No, they didn’t. The spur winged geese moved in to roost. Those little birds left. So he called me. I was coming in a couple of days early to save money on airfare preceding the clients. I was just going to camp out and get my body clock tuned in and he called up and said, I got them. I’m going to pick you up tomorrow. And we went down to free state. And what shocked me now – we did see some out in some, I’d say thigh deep water, a big body of water and we saw 3 or 4 pairs, but we couldn’t close the deal on them. I just wanted one. So as we started driving around, scouting them, we weren’t looking at big, deep water bodies like I think of ruddy ducks. Another stiff tail duck, the benchmark, let’s call them. These birds were in shallow water with a lot of emergent vegetation. And I remember glassing the pond, we found my own, I say, I glassed it, boy, I glass, like I say, grieves cooch, I was glassing, did not see one. And I said, it’s like finding needle in a haystack. The outfitter kept looking and he tapped the top of the hood and pointed. And right where I had looked, apparently that bird had been underwater feeding. He popped up and there he was. It was just stalked up and jumped him and got him. But it’s crazy how they’re in the same. You would think that a ruddy duck and a maccoa duck and a masked duck, all being stiff tail ducks, would be very similar niche habitats, but they aren’t. It’s just for some reason, the ruddy ducks like what I would classify as a different type of habitat or feeding behavior than these other two. I was just shocked to find the bird in shallow water with a lot of emergent vegetation.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, the masked ducks and I think the maccoas are similar in that regard, is that the masked ducks are probably the most severe as far as selecting habitat where the water is virtually covered with vegetation. I mean, I’ve seen them in places where you can’t see the open water and they pop up with vegetation on their back and maccoas maybe aren’t quite that severe, but they’re similar in that regard. But interesting ducks. I mean, you find out so many cool things in spending the time behind a camera or as a collector. It isn’t about volume. It’s about getting that one. So you spend lots of time and you learn the habits of these birds. And I think that’s the real key in the long run to either good collecting or good photography.

Photographing Waterfowl vs Hunting Waterfowl

Whether it be that you’re trying to collect so many birds or shoot your limit or whatever it is, I think there’s some similarities.

Ramsey Russell: Well, Gary, you just brought up a good point because I jotted down a question, I wanted to ask you is the difference in filming versus hunting because you are a photographer, but you are also a hunter? What are the similarities and the differences? Because just the limited experience I have as an amateur photographer back in the day, trying to take pictures of flying ducks and all that good stuff. I just noticed a lot of personality and a lot of just behaviors in waterfowl that I never noticed over a shotgun. And it was a very different experience than hunting. But how would you describe the differences between swinging a camera, swinging a shotgun?

Gary Kramer: Well, I think I started out with a shotgun long before I ever took my first photo. That was my interest. How I got into this whole thing was waterfowl hunting like you. It kind of gets into your blood. You want to learn more and more. And I started taking photos and then pretty soon it became the dominant type of photography. I did both for the fact that I had success in selling the images and also had success in obtaining them. But the real difference is, I think that when you’re in a hunting scenario, you’re so focused on getting those birds to you, making the shot, getting the retrieve and then moving on to the next. Whether it be that you’re trying to collect so many birds or shoot your limit or whatever it is, I think there’s some similarities. First of all, if you’re taking flying shots with a big lens, you got to use a tripod. So I got a 600 that’s on a tripod, has a swivel head that I can move real quick and that swinging movement that you do with a shotgun to make your clean kill and the swinging movement you have with your camera to make a good image kind of are one and the same. So I actually think that some of the – and that’s kind of what I mean I take pictures of them from sitting on the water in a pond to flying as singles, doubles in huge groups. But the thing that I’ve kind of locked in on that I might say is my specialty and that’s flying ducks, flying geese and a lot of that has to do with the ability to swing. So I would think a non hunter who’s never had to swing a shotgun might have a little bit more difficulty kind of getting that dialed in right. So I think there’s those similarities. I think the real differences are, is as I said, with the hunting, it’s more of a rapid thing, whereas with photography, it can be rapid. But as you know, you can spend so much time where you don’t get a shot, but you’re just observing and you’re looking at the behavior of the ducks and you’re looking at that how they’re reacting to you. I mean, most of the time when I’m in, let’s say I’m in a place where it’s in the springtime and there’s no hunting and I’m sitting up at the edge of a pond with cattails. I got camo on, I got there in the dark and I’m waiting for the birds to either swim by or fly by. I think they kind of know you’re there about half the time or at least they know something’s up. But with time, they relax a little bit and then you have a tendency to get your shots because that time of year, they’re not being hassled on a daily basis and being shot at that they just calm down. So I think there are similarities, like in the swinging on flying ducks. And I think it’s very different as far as the hours that you might put in without even taking any photos. But you can be very – and you remember that stuff. You remember how a particular bird, like a yellow billed pintail, might behave different than a ringed teal or something like that if you’re in Argentina. So there are some similarities and I think there are some differences. And I think photography, just like hunting, is really putting in your time. So I think those are some pretty basic things.

Ramsey Russell: As a hunter with both a shotgun and a camera, how do you balance? Here’s what I’m trying to say. You go to St. Paul Island, which has got unforgiving weather and unpredictable weather conditions. You want to shoot a king eider, but you want to capture them on film, too. I mean if you got a gun in one hand, a camera in the other and here comes a bird. I mean, how do you decide, am I going to shoot this one or take a picture of them? How do you balance that?

Juggling Hunting and Photography Efforts

You can do them both on the same day, but you can’t do them at the same time.

Gary Kramer: Well, what I’ve kind of done over the years is I’ve kind of gotten in this zone to where, let’s just say it’s somewhere where there’s a lot of volume. St. Paul is not a lot of volume. St. Paul is taking advantage of the bird when it flies by. Hopefully, you get your 1 or 2 kings. And then for me, it would be just photographed pretty much the rest of the time, as we well know what that place is like, as long as the wind’s not blowing the salt right into your lens. But let’s take a place where there’s some volume involved and that may be Argentina or Mexico, for instance. What I typically do is that the guys I go with, I’ve been going with forever. There’s half a dozen guys, some of the guys I went to school with, grade school with and some of the guys in college. But they kind of know the drill for me. And what happens normally is that early in the morning before there’s any sun, let’s say we’re in Argentina, then I’m going to be there being aggressive. I got my shotgun. The guys know that if it comes, I’m going to try to be on it quick and I’m going to shoot my birds. But if the sun is going to come out 2 minutes after a nice sunrise or we get a red sunrise and I put the gun away and I let them shoot. Let’s say the birds are coming down the right, I’ll say, okay, take them, guys. But if they’re coming in on the left, I won’t let those guys shoot. And they know that because they’re coming in on my side. So it’s a bit of, I get my – the hunting, which I still love to do in early. And then the rest of the morning, I’m taking photos. Now, if it’s cloudy and rainy, I may not even take my camera out, because as we know, look at the good photos around, whether it be in Delta, DU, Waterfowl it doesn’t matter. You’re going to want some, generally, that have some light on them and that light is the best early in the morning. So I’ll shoot early, then I give up the shooting. And that’s just what I’ve been able to do over the years. And it’s that kind of discipline. You can do them both on the same day, but you can’t do them at the same time.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, exactly. It just reminded me of a time I was hunting in Uruguay with a gentleman. He’s a duck killer. And I put the gun down and picked up my camera. I’m like, let a few get through, man. I just finally put the camera down and picked up my gun because he wasn’t letting nothing get through. Everything I was shooting was either folded up and dying or shifting gears because he’d missed. And I just realized, this ain’t going to work. Some of it worked, but it was just impossible. It was very frustrating and it’s a very hard decision, I guess, as an amateur photographer, at some point in time in the past, I just decided I’m going to swing a shotgun instead of a camera. That’s me. That’s why I’m glad guys like you are out there taking all these beautiful pictures. Go ahead.

Gary Kramer: Well, it’s just like if I go – years and years ago when I’d go to a lodge, they would say, okay, let me just put a client with you and you can photograph ducks, you can photograph hunting action. And after about one time, I said, look, this is never going to work. Because the things that I need to ask my fellow hunters to do, which is don’t shoot this bird. Or wait, if I’m shooting hunting action, which I do, too and I’m saying, wait till it gets closer, that’s going to make a client crazy. So I got to the point where the guys that are the buddies that go with me kind of know what the drill is ahead of time because you can’t expect a client to put up with that. So that was something I learned very early on.

Learning Through a Lens

And I think as a photographer, I don’t know if I can identify every single bird in the world in the air, but I bet you I get pretty close because I’ve spent so much time looking at them through a lens that I developed that. 

Ramsey Russell: To be a successful duck hunter, you have to understand the habitat, you have to understand duck behavior. And the more you understand about all the moving pieces, the more successful hunter you generally are. But all of a sudden you pick up a camera. And in my limited experiences, I just made a lot of different observations that I didn’t make when I was looking at ducks over the top of a shotgun. What has being a waterfowl photographer that specializes in flying birds, what have you learned about waterfowl by looking at them through the lens?

Gary Kramer: Well, one of the things that my background is, as I spent 26 years with the US Fish & Wildlife Services, both a waterfowl biologist and refuge manager. And during the course of those years, I spent a lot of time in the field. But it wasn’t ever quite like the time I spent as a photographer. And I can make that same analogy to hunting as a photographer. I’m going to be out there for a long time and I’m going to look at these birds and I’m going to watch them and see. Let’s say I’m trying to photograph a courtship flight, that starts occurring in the southern US and in the west here like mallards that happens in November. And then as we progress through the winter the shovelers are later and so on. I’m looking for the behavior of birds sitting on the water and it might be a couple of 3 or 4 drakes and they’re pushing the hen just a little bit. And I go, okay, if I stay on those birds, I know they’re going to fly because it isn’t like they’re sitting there. It’s a courtship activity that I’m observing. And that courtship activity on the water is going to give me a clue that at some point they’re going to make a jump and they’re going to be in the air. So I may focus on that group if I got a clear shot. And lo and behold, in the next 5 minutes they’re going to blow up out of there and I might get one of those shots where there’s half a dozen birds reaching for the sky, water splashing all over and get the shot that’s really going to be of value to me because I’m looking for action shots, duck on upon shots, unless you’re trying to document it, this kind of don’t work in the general publications. I have some ducks on upon shots in the Waterfowl of the World book, but that’s because I want to show a good id shot. So looking at the behavior is going to give you some clues that you might not notice otherwise. Just the way they behave and the way they react. Then on a courtship flight, for instance, you know they’re going to fly in unison. So what you do is put your focus point kind of on that group and they are going to bob and weave, especially teal. You’ve seen them do that, these wads of teal. I call them energy balls. And you stay on that and you just keep hammering down on the shutter button and you’re going to get some incredible shots. And that’s just learning the behavior of ducks. And there’s a lot of other things similar to that because you have the time. Usually you’re by yourself. Photography is 99% of the time I’m standing there in the tules by myself. So it’s my own discipline that determines how early I get there in the dark, how late I stay by 10:30, 11:00 it’s over with, because if it’s on a sunny day, the light just gets too harsh. And I’m learning the behavior of these birds and then I try to remember how to apply that for the next trip. And I’ve been doing that for, I don’t know, 45 years off and on.

Ramsey Russell: Now, same question, but what have you learned about yourself or how have you evolved as a better hunter by hunting ducks with a camera instead of a shotgun?

Gary Kramer: I mean, especially these foreign species a lot of guys will go to Argentina and they have no idea what they’re shooting. They got no clue. They don’t know what a rosy billed pochard is, they don’t know what a yellow billed pintail is and they kind of don’t care. But I think there’s a lot of guys that really do want to know what’s going on. And I think as a photographer, I don’t know if I can identify every single bird in the world in the air, but I bet you I get pretty close because I’ve spent so much time looking at them through a lens that I developed that. And I think a lot of people these days, especially hunters, that are going to foreign destinations and spending lots of money, want to know what they’re after. And I think Waterfowl of the World, it’s my book. Let’s face it, I’m promoting it. But it is a good resource for a guy that’s going to say, hey, I’m going to Argentina. And I go, they got this rosy billed something and a couple of pintails. They go to that chapter, read up on it goes, okay, cool. So when they get there, they can tell their other buddies, because there’s so many misnomers on duck names around the world. There’s corn ducks, which make – there’s these colloquial names that don’t mean anything. So if you’re dialed into the right name, at least the other folks go wild, that’s pretty cool that you know that.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s made you a better server and it’s expanded your own waterfowl world because now you’re engaging with all the birds in the world. All of the waterfowl in the world, not just the ones located in your backyard.

Gary Kramer: Yeah. And even in the backyard, you need to know what they are. I mean, there’s still guys in the US that don’t know what they’re shooting. I mean, you know it better here, because you have regulations. You have to watch out for shooting the wrong one. But that’s part of the learning curve of a new duck hunter. You got to get proficient at what you’re shooting and you better do it quick. So I think that’s something that photography has taught me to just really study stuff, watch behavior, learn the difference between birds and kind of try to anticipate where that next shot can come from.

Favorite Duck Species in the World

One of them that I think is the coolest duck around is a red crested pochard.

Ramsey Russell: Of all the species in the world that you’ve worked with, do you have a single favorite species beyond photography and hunting? Is there just a duck? You somehow click with. That you just say, man, I really do like that bird most of all.

Gary Kramer: I got probably 10 of those, but a couple that – I’ll give you 2. One of them that I think is the coolest duck around is a red crested pochard.

Ramsey Russell: Yes.

Gary Kramer: Because it’s a diving duck, like a redhead or a canvasback or a common pochard. But it’s got this brilliant head the drakes do. And the place that I photographed him the most successfully of all places was in Morocco.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, because on the north coast of Morocco, the Atlantic Coast of Morocco, there’s some brackish marshes that eventually turn into freshwater where a river or delta comes to the sea. And I went there specifically to photograph ferruginous ducks, white headed ducks and red crested pochards. And I was very successful. I had a super good guide that knew where to take me and I got them during courtship, so I got them on the water courting. They do some head bobs like a redhead and then they also do courtship flights like a canvasback might. And I think that is just one of the coolest ducks on the planet. And I kind of like divers in a way. I’ve certainly hunted more puddle ducks than I have divers, but I find them very intriguing in their behavior, the way they dive and get their food and their rapid wing beat, the way they come to decoys. So red crested are probably one of my very favorite ones. The other one that I think is a very cool duck is – of course, everybody loves mandarin ducks and I did photograph those in South Korea, but I think a ringed teal. Both Uruguay and Argentina is a very cool little duck, usually in pairs, not big flocks and they decoy like crazy. And they’re just a cool looking duck. So those would be my two red crested number one, of course, for me. What do you think?

Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve got this thing, of all things, speckled teal and it goes back to one particular morning, back when I was still toting cameras and taking pictures myself and I went duck hunting and it was great. On the edge of a marsh, we shoot, Of course it was a baited hunt because it was down in Argentina. And after I got about, I don’t know, 40 or so ducks and close to a limit, I unshucked my shells and picked up my camera. The light was still low, it wasn’t high. So that the bird was equal or beneath flying birds. Good photography and a lot of speckled teal started coming in, wanting to feed and I was sitting right there on top of their feed. And they got off about 10 yards. And just their personality and their behavior, they were just real agitated because I was interrupting their meal. And they started just pecking each other or scolding each other or talking to each other. And one of them would fly in, sit for a little bit and fly back and that flock would swim. But it’s just looking at them and watching them, especially through the lens. They just had so much personality that I never would have seen had I been shooting. And for some reason, every time I’m down in Argentina, they’re not particularly the most attractive bird. Although they’re beautiful in a gadwall like way, they’re still one of my favorite ducks because of that. Just getting to experience that personality with them.

Gary Kramer: Yeah. You do see that when you have time and you’re not running and gunning all the time. And I see that with the red crest is they – I saw a lot of courtship behavior. And they were males aggressive against each other and the hens just not paying attention. And then they’re trying to do all this stuff. So it’s really cool to watch that through a lens. I can spend a day taking photos and have a tremendous time, not get a lot of great photos. And same thing with hunting, it’s about being in the environment. It’s what you and I do. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 45 years plus I can’t tell you how many days a year I put waiters on. But it’s kind of what I do. It’s what you do. And there’s other people like us too.

Ramsey Russell: Like yourself I do have a thing for red crested pochards. The only place I had a chance to get on them good and I believe it does represent a great place to hunt them if they’re in is Azerbaijan. And having hunted rosy bills forever, I was aware that the rosy billed pochard, the red crested pochard and then down in Africa, the southern pochard are all the 3 members of the genus Netta. And to hear the books describe them, they’re kind of a false diver. They’re a diver like bird, built like a pochard, but they do like shallower wetlands and do have dabbler like feeding preferences. So I was sitting out there hunting on a little pocket up in the tules. I say a little pocket relative to the big bay off to the right of us. And about that time, just here come a flock out of nowhere. They buzzed us hard, but they wanted to be, because they saw the decoys and the mojo, but they wanted to be over in the more open water to raft up. And just instinctively, I did not see the bright orange head, I did not see the revlon red lipstick on the drakes. What I noticed and what I’ll never forget is when they banked, what I saw was the very prominent white in their secondaries and primaries, just like rosy bills, just like southern pochards. And I grabbed my call and just started growling into it. And by God, if they didn’t turn and this time they come and put the brakes on right over the decoys and I tripled. And I don’t know what the Azerbaijan word for red crested pochard is, but for the remainder of times I’ve been over there, when we see them, my guide pokes me and goes, he growls like I’m growling into that call and he’s telling me to call them, but I think because they were one of my last real big unicorns, I’ve just got this thing for them. And the whole one is just amazing. That big, round, orange naval orange sized head is just astounding. It’s amazing to put your hands on. But you know, they really, I’ve eaten them, but over there in Azerbaijan, they really don’t favor them for food. They want coots and mallards and greenwings. That’s what they want to eat themselves. But I think they’re an amazing bird. I really do.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, they are a cool bird. And as you said, all 3 of those and the southern pochards are really a tough one. I even had some – they’re found in South America and in Africa, but I think all 3 of us, particularly the rosy billed, I mean, you find them in shallow water, they behave more like a puddle duck than they do a diver. You find them in 10 inches of water in a rice field.

Ramsey Russell: Well, with your extensive travels, I’ve seen that the southern pochard is listed as a South American bird as well as Africa. But the parts of South America I’ve been to, I’ve never seen them. Have you seen them in South America?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, I photographed them successfully in that southeastern Brazil in the same big marsh that I saw the masked ducks. The masked ducks were in heavy vegetation and the southern pochard were in relatively not as heavy, but it was kind of open water and floating vegetation. And there was a number of them there and that’s where I was able to get them. And of course, Brazil, you can’t hunt anything. There’s no hunting in Brazil at all. But we actually use kind of a boat blind where we had a boat and put some burlap up in front, stuck the lens through and we could go real slow through the march and get relatively close to them and then just wait on them and kind of just would creep up on them and photograph them from the boat. That’s the only place I’ve seen. I’ve seen them a few places in South Africa and while I’ve hunted there, I’ve never had the opportunity to shoot one in South Africa.

Ramsey Russell: Well. No, southern pochards are in both South America and then way over in Africa. Same exact species, same exact bird. White faced whistling ducks are in South America and South Africa. Same exact bird, same exact species. But black bellied whistling ducks are also in South America and North America, but they’re two different subspecies. And for years, not paying attention, because a lot of times when we shoot the birds out there in those wild areas, we’ve had to really get back in the bushes to get back in those areas. So we start off with a little spread and then as you shoot ducks, they kind of become your decoys until it’s time to pick up and go, you just got more birds out there. And for years, I would pick up some black bellied whistling ducks and they all seemed to be molting. These wet birds I was picking up, they seemed to be just different than ours, molting. And it wasn’t one time that I was going through my book, Burns and Madge, that’s my bible of the birds of the world. It’s a little dated, but I like it that I realized they were a southern black bellied whistling duck that has the gray mountain gray chest. And the bird world like that is just amazing to me that there can be some similarities so far apart, but yet some differences so close apart. Isn’t that crazy that it does that?

Gary Kramer: Yeah, it really is. I mean, there’s a lot of things like that going on. Fulvous whistling ducks are very widespread too. They’re found in a bunch of places in South America. Yeah, they’re found all over the place. Let’s see, to my knowledge, there’s no subspecies.

Ramsey Russell: No, subspecies. The fulvous whistlers are the fulvous whistler, you’re exactly right. What are some of your most memorable parts of the world? Some of the most memorable countries or situations that you have been in beyond the birds? Just some real interesting places.

Gary Kramer: Well, a lot of it has to do, I think, with kind of where you’re going in the lifestyle. And I think I even mentioned this a little bit in the last podcast. But India, which I’ve been, I do also do photo safaris for tigers in India. In addition, photo safaris, we talked about that earlier, but I do photo safaris in Africa, multiple countries, general game viewing. I do a Galapagos trip for general game viewing. I do Africa primarily for tigers and I do the Pantanal in Brazil for jaguars. So I’ve been to India numerous times. I went twice specifically for the Waterfowl of the World book and then I’ve done about 4 tiger trips. And India to me is one of these really crazy places where the traffic in Delhi is unbelievable. The exhaust fumes are horrible, there’s cows all over the place because they’re sacred and there’s a ton of people. And it is one of the dirtiest places in the world. Let’s just face it, there’s trash everywhere. But once you get out and you get into the countryside and you get away from that and you get in the national parks, you’ll find that it really is pretty pristine and the whole ambiance of it changes. It’s a very agricultural society. People are super nice. Cars kind of go away in big numbers. And you have this real dichotomy of Delhi, which you have to go through, which is one of the toughest places in the world to be. And then you have in the country, so that’s always been very interesting to me.

Ramsey Russell: What is it like where you all are chasing those tigers? I want to hear a little bit more about the jungle book experience. I mean, what kind of habitat are you in and how are you getting close enough to those cats to take pictures?

Gary Kramer: Well, it’s interesting in India, those trips are based on – there’s about 3 or 4 national parks in India where you have a high probability of seeing wild tigers. So what I do is I’ll put a group together. Usually it’s 8 fly into Delhi and then we go to the – Everyone wants to see the Taj Mahal, so you go see that. But then we don’t spend much time in the city. We go out there. But the real interesting thing is that unlike Africa, as an example, where you go into, let’s say you go to the Serengeti National Park, you get in the vehicle and you drive around. The real key that I found in a space on having local knowledge is that in India the parks are divided into zones. And you have like, say 5 zones. But maybe only 3 of these zones have tigers in them that are habituated to vehicles, like lions are habituated to vehicles in Africa, you have to have a critter that’s going to tolerate the vehicle or you’re never going to see them. And that’s what happens in Africa with lions and cheetahs. And it happens in India too, to where they’ve seen enough vehicles in their life that they pose no threat. So you’ll see a tiger. But not all zones are created equal. 2 zones may not have any – they may have wild tigers in them that would never, ever show themselves. So you have to know where you’re going to go. And that’s why having a local contact. So my guy over there, I say, okay, these are the parks we’re going to go to. Make sure we get the good zones because you have to then select your zone when you go. If you go to a general travel agency, say, I want to go to Indian Sea Tigers, they’ll send you to a national park, but you don’t have no idea where within the park you can go because you can’t go outside your zone. And then once you get there, basically you drive around and there’s areas where they have good ideas where the cats are going to show up. Ranthambore, for instance, is a park where there’s a lot of old ruins there and old temples and things. A lot of times there’ll be tigers that are visible around that. Other places, like Kanha National Park is all pretty forested with some open savannah and it’s basically driving around. But when you see them, they’re going to behave pretty normally, even though there’s going to be a vehicle close by. And nothing is quite as amazing as seeing why that tiger pattern works for them in a forest where that dappled light of light and dark and light and dark and they’re walking through that. It’s like a frigging ghost, walking through that forest. And that’s pretty exciting. The people that go to India usually have gone to Africa with me where it’s quite easy to see the cats. It’s a little tougher in India, but we’ve had success every trip and it’s quite a deal. Plus, there’s a lot – their diet primarily is really pretty much a lot of wild hogs. There’s a lot of wild pigs there. They also eat sambar deer and axis deer. So those are kind of their main food sources.

Ramsey Russell: Threw up on my radar. Recently I was actually in a camp down in South America when an outdoor writer was telling me, go google tiger killings. In other words, because tigers are now protected, their population is growing leaps and bounds. And in the same way you hear about joggers getting swiped by mountain lions in Colorado or California, it’s an increasing amount of human predation by tigers. And sometimes they get a problem cat and they reach out to some of the former royalty who has a tradition of hunting tigers and knows how to hunt them to kill that problem cat. It’s not publicized heavily, but there are newspaper reportings and things to read on. So the tiger populations, by and large are fairly stable, if not growing enough that they get problem tigers. As you were talking about going through some of these car tour areas, I saw something on social media not too long ago. It’s like a husband and wife were getting out to swap sides of the car. She was going to drive instead of him. She got to the other side. Now out of the side of the lens, up come the tiger that grabs her and starts dragging her off and the husband and the tiger playing tug of war with the wife. Man, that’s pretty scary stuff –

Gary Kramer: That’s not a good thing.

Ramsey Russell: No, that’s not a good thing at all. And then I saw another one. It was just some things you can’t unsee. But just imagine a guy in India fishing and you can see his fishing pole in his hand and he’s taking a selfie and he’s talking to the selfie like a little video he’s going to post later. And in the background, you see emerge from the grass a tiger. And the guy all of a sudden sees it in his camera and hollers. Then the video goes to another video to where it’s a police crime scene and they’re picking up his remains because that tiger got him.

Gary Kramer: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Man, that’s some scary stuff, I’m going to tell you what.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, well, historically, tigers, of all the big cats, have probably been more problems with humans than any of them. In fact, in the south, the fishermen actually will put a mask on, which is a person’s – it’s a mask that looks like a human on the back of their head because they’re afraid of these cats coming up behind them. So tigers historically have been more man eaters than almost any other cat. And they’re pretty restricted now to these parks because outside the parks, I mean, the countryside is nuked. It’s really all agriculture or city. The parks are very pristine, but outside there’s not much habitat left. They stray outside the parks and they eat cows and do a bunch of stuff too.

Ramsey Russell: Where are some other of the most memorable places you’ve been? I kind of interrupted. You fell down the tiger rabbit hole, but it’s an interesting subject. Where are some of the other crazy places you’ve been most memorable?

The Memorable African Black Duck

So they got the machetes, we all got on headlamps and we’re chopping through the jungle. 

Gary Kramer: Well, let’s see. Another crazy one that I would have never gone to if it wouldn’t have been for the book is Papua New Guinea. And that was for a specific duck and that called the Salvadori’s teal. I mentioned this before in the last podcast, but it’s so indelible in my memory, kind of the short version is Salvadori’s teal are found only in Papua New Guinea, in the mountains, very endemic, found in riverine systems way up in the mountains, never form flocks, they’re these riverine ducks that you know about, like the African black duck, very secretive. I looked on the Internet, I found essentially no, what I would call professional photos. So I flew to Australia. Then from Australia I flew to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the capital. Then I flew up in the mountains to this place called Tabubil, which is a mining town. Got a guide with a vehicle, drove around, found birds within the first couple of hours. Saw them at 120 yards, got out of the car, they flew away. Come to find out, the reason there’s no good photos is because of the wariest bird I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, you even show yourself and those things fly away. Basically the reason is that from 5 years old on up, you got a slingshot, you got a pellet gun, you got a BB gun, you got a 22, you got a shotgun. If it flies, it dies. They’re either going to eat it or use it for, if it’s like a bird of paradise for their plumes. So these super wary birds, the only way I ever found to try to even photograph them was to see a pair, like in the afternoon. Then I had to build a blind on the edge of the river, hoping that they would float downstream. Now, this is a full on jungle. So I had 2 guys helping me, 2 young guys, thank God, that were my guides helping me. So one afternoon we saw a pair. We said, okay, we’re going to go in the dark. We’re going to go down here to photograph these 2 birds and hope they come by. So they got the machetes, we all got on headlamps and we’re chopping through the jungle. I’m following them down the path and all of a sudden, all 3 of us start to get bit on our face, in our clothes, on our hands. I mean, it was like we were getting swarmed on by these insects in the middle. It was like a scene out of a horror movie. We’re jumping and screaming and trying to beat these things down and eventually got away from it. And I asked the guy, I said, what the hell was that? He said, well, I must have chopped through a nest of what we call electric ants with my machete, because every time they bite you, it’s like an electric shock. We had bites from head to toe. I don’t know how they got my pants and in my shirt and everything. Anyway, so we had to weather that. Got down to the river’s edge, build the blind, never saw a duck. The story on that is, which is my most memorable place, probably the toughest thing I ever tried to photograph. I spent 10 hours a day, 6 days in a row in blinds, waiting for the birds and got 4 minutes of photography. That was it. And I’m going, oh, my God. I hope I’d never have to come back to this place because I didn’t get the photos until day 5.

Ramsey Russell: But you got it.

Gary Kramer: And it was only 2 birds and they floated right on by me, got up on a gravel bar and I photographed them and I have photos in the book. But that ordeal was like. Those insects were like – I’ve never seen anything like it. It was right out of a nightmare.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the most interesting meals you’ve eaten?

Gary Kramer: Oh, my God.

Ramsey Russell: There’s bound to be some meals you wouldn’t eat again.

Gary Kramer: Well, yeah. Okay. On the one hand is even though I go to India, right, I’ve been there a bunch of times, 2 times for the book, a number of other times for these. I hate curry. I mean they try to feed me curry and after a while so – on one of the trips, I went down there with a guide for the waterfowl book, right. I said, hey, look, I don’t like curry. I just don’t like it at all. Anyway, I’ve tried it, I can’t deal with it. So he says, well, let’s go to Kentucky Fried Chicken. We were in a little town that had. I don’t really. I don’t really love Kentucky Fried Chicken, but, yeah, I guess so. So we go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, we order Kentucky Fried Chicken. We get it. I take a bite of it. It’s got the kernels crispy on the outside. But guess what? Before they put the crispy on it, they dip it in curry.

Ramsey Russell: I knew you were going to say that.

Gary Kramer: So we got Kentucky fried chicken dipped in curry. Well, finally, what I started to say, which seemed to work, is I said, look, if I eat curry, I’m allergic, I’ll die. So they quit feeding me curry. So I got to find something. Luckily, in all the tiger lodges, they have a full Indian menu and a European menu, so I’m fine. But when I was doing the duck book, I’m out in the brush in these little towns. So I got to the point. I was eating cornflakes for breakfast, white rice for lunch and usually I could find a piece of chicken and I’d say, look, just put it in the pan and fry it. Don’t put anything on it. So that was that. So that was kind of the worst. The other thing is and you’ve been to Argentina, I love the asados, where they do the – out in the fields, you got the coals, they’re barbecuing, grilling, all kind of cuts of meat. You got your red wine, you got your red meat. I mean, that to me is sitting out there after you just shot a limit of birds and maybe you’re going to go back out in the afternoon or maybe you do a duck hunter, a paradise hunt in the afternoon and have that with a little siesta afterwards, what’s better than.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah I like, I like the cuts of meat they have down in Argentina. It’s like they cook everything but the moo. It’s all pretty darn good. I thought I liked Chinese food. And what I learned one time, 72 hours in Beijing, is that I do not like Chinese food. I like Peking duck, but that’s all I ate for about 70 to 72 hours because I realized I don’t like Chinese food. And I just thought I did. When you go here and eat egg rolls and chow main and egg foo young and good stuff like that around American Chinese food is okay, but I don’t like real Chinese food. We went to some restaurant, they just went on and on about the pork specialty. And I took a bite and the first bite tasted like that old brown catfish stink bait smells. So I took another bite, it tasted the same and I said, I don’t eat stink bait. I’m done. And that was it. That was about the third meal in China. I didn’t like it. We found a restaurant that had Peking duck and I ate Peking duck for the remainder of the stay. But anyway, it’s interesting, the foods you get into when you travel around, like you have, Gary.

Gary Kramer: Well. You get experiences with people. You get the food. That’s one thing this wanderlust that you and I have, the only way you take care of that is by going.

A Lifelong Waterfowl Hunter

And how has all of that travel, walking into those wetlands, going to those countries, seeing those species, how has it shaped your perspective or understanding of habitat and waterfowl conservation?

Ramsey Russell: Right, exactly. Gary, you’re a waterfowl biologist by training. You’re a hunter for – a lifelong hunter, you do hunt a lot of waterfowl. And you have now chased all the ducks of the world, around the world with a camera. And how has all of that travel, walking into those wetlands, going to those countries, seeing those species, how has it shaped your perspective or understanding of habitat and waterfowl conservation?

Gary Kramer: Well, one of the things, as a biologist that we’ve always known and you get taught in school and you see it in practices, it’s all about the habitat. And it really is. I mean, if you go around the world looking in these wetlands, you find some absolutely pristine wetlands that have never been touched. Birds are abundant, whether it be on a hunting scenario like Argentina or Uruguay or South Africa or whether it be in a photography situation like Brazil, where you can’t hunt. And the real key to it is the habitat. And as soon as you overgraze it, as soon as you pollute it, as soon as you have too many people living around it, it just really ruins that habitat’s ability to support waterfowl and either other species of wildlife. A real good example of that is Madagascar, where there’s lots of rice fields there in Madagascar. But I never saw one wild duck on a rice field because there were so many people living around it. It isn’t like in Louisiana or Texas or California or Arkansas, where the farmers over in the corner and there’s a bunch of rice. I mean, there were people living at every corner of the rice field and it’s loaded with domestic ducks. And I never saw any wild ducks on lots and lots of rice fields, which I found astounding. Living here in the central valley of California, having been to Arkansas, Louisiana all over the world where they grow rice, there just wasn’t any. Even in South Korea, where there’s a lot of rice, there was ducks on the rice. Even in China, there were ducks on the rice. But in Madagascar there wasn’t. And then you look at any other wetlands there, they’ve either overgrazed it or polluted it. That’s why the rarest duck in the world is found in Madagascar.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a good observation, it’s like you were talking about the little boys with the slingshots over in Papua New Guinea. And one thing that I think I’ve observed traveling is that a lot of parts of the world outside the United States and Canada or let’s just say North America, the bush meat trade is alive and well. I mean there’s eight and a half billion people on earth and a lot of them don’t have a grocery store to go to, don’t have money to spend at a grocery store if they did and they’re living hand to mouth on nature and you can’t fault them for that. But because there’s not a big industry like $75 billion sporting industry here in the United States built around wildlife, they don’t seem to value, have the same value for sustainable use or for habitat that we do. It just happened to be a beautiful habitat because there’s not a lot of people around it.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: It’s very different. It’s dawning at times to look at all the money that we put into habitat conservation, into wildlife laws and legislations and seasons and bag limits, but at the same time, we have to. Because we really go after those birds and hunt them. But they’re just big parts of the world that I hunt in countries that they still market hunt.

Gary Kramer: It’s like you’ve seen in Azerbaijan. You drive up and down that road and they got them hanging on a post selling them.

Ramsey Russell: Exactly. They’re still selling them and then they’re eating them. I mean, from the time birds show up until the time they leave, somebody’s hunting them to eat. Basically, I wonder –

Gary Kramer: Well, luckily, it’s not huge numbers. That’s kind of the thing. Well, just like Iceland. Iceland, at least today, I believe today and it has been a few years back, I mean, you shoot geese there, they all get sold at the market. It is absolutely legal to shoot a bird in Iceland and then go sell it. The only place in the world I know of like that.

Ramsey Russell: Well, ironically, Netherlands, which is a bastion of anti hunters, shut the goose season down. Now you can hunt them under depredation permits. Nonetheless, come thanksgiving from about November and December, during the holiday period. Guess what? they want to eat ducks and geese, which are wild harvested. It’s the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. So a lot of the birds we’re shooting in the Netherlands, a lot of the geese are being cleaned, breasted with the skin on, put into plastic bags and frozen and sold at the natural markets. But the public overwhelmingly is opposed to hunting. It’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen. But anyway, I want to talk about your book because I’m going to tell you, Gary 2021, you published Waterfowl of the World. It is a monumental book, a monumental accomplishment. I got a copy, I can tell you, sitting right there on the coffee table. But I travel a lot around the United States and countless – and I do mean countless, are the homes and camps and places I’ve walked into that have a copy of that book. It must have just flown off the shelves. How have sales been and how’s it going and what’s going on in the world of your book?

Gary Kramer: Well, the thing – I feel so fortunate. I mean, I knew I kind of had a targeted audience with the duck hunters who really are the person that’s buying this. But I published 4000 copies, which is more copies than – I’ve done 7 books and the most I’ve ever done before. That was 2500. This was 4000. And in a little over a year, I got 500 left. I’ve sold 3500 of these things. And they’re everywhere. In fact, it’s got to the point that they’re no longer available on Amazon or in any bookstore. I have the only, because I’m getting down to the end and when Amazon sells one, I get a tiny percentage of what the book is worth because everybody steps on it. Right?

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gary Kramer: The publisher gets money out of it. Amazon cuts deals with them and I get very little as opposed to selling them direct. So I got the last $500. You can’t go to Amazon. I even saw a thing on the Internet the other day. Somebody tried to scalp one for over $200. Yeah, if you go on the Internet, I found, somebody told me about it. Then I went and found it and they’re a $90 book shipped. They’re $99 shipped anywhere in the US for the book 540 pages, 1299 photos, 4000 printed, 500 or so left in my garage and I ship them out of here. Best place to get them is on my website, which is And it has really been something that I was not prepared for the interest that I’m getting. So there is some thought in my mind about a reprint, but of course I want to get rid of the ones I have now. And then I got to determine on the price of the reprinting. I mean, price of paper, everything’s gone up. And if it’s going to be even affordable, the books really should have been priced at over 100 based on how you price books. But I wanted to keep the price point under $100. $90 for the book, $9 for shipping. And that’s kind of where we’re at. And the other thing, too, is that I just got really a nice pat on the back. The publisher put in for an award that I didn’t even know about. It’s called the Benjamin Franklin Independent Book Publishers Association award, which I looked up after the fact. And it’s kind of a big deal. There’s 30 to 50 entries per category. Then they pick 3 finalists and then one gets the gold trophy, so to speak. And Waterfowl of the World was nominated for that in the environment and nature category. And they’re having a big conference in San Diego here in May where they pick the gold winner and they give you a free trip down there to attend it. So I’m going to go down there and see if I won.

Ramsey Russell: Well, congratulations on that. Real quickly, you’ve got a great Instagram page. One of the most beautiful ducks I’ve never laid eyes on personally is the bronze winged duck. And the other day, you posted a just stunning picture of that bird. What is your Instagram account?

Gary Kramer: It’s gary_kramer_photography.

Ramsey Russell: Kramer with a k.

Gary Kramer: Yeah. Kramer with a k. Right.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gary Kramer: A lot of people want to spell it with a c, but it’s K-R-A-M-E-R.

Ramsey Russell: Yep. Gary, congratulations on your success. And folks, trust me, get your hands on a copy of this book. It’s an absolute beautiful thing that every duck hunter – you’ll spend countless hours and days and months just going through the pages of it. Gary, thank you for breaking away and taking time to come visit with us today. Always love to see you and hope to see our blind with you soon.

Gary Kramer: Yeah, absolutely. Appreciate it, Ramsey. Just really appreciate the effort with the podcast. And I think we’re kind of all in the same business. We want to promote this sport, want to promote waterfowl. And I think both you and I are kind of doing the best we can.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.


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Mojo Outdoors, most recognized name brand decoy number one maker of motion and spinning wing decoys in the world. More than just the best spinning wing decoys on the market, their ever growing product line includes all kinds of cool stuff. Magnetic Pick Stick, Scoot and Shoot Turkey Decoys much, much more. And don’t forget my personal favorite, yes sir, they also make the one – the only – world-famous Spoonzilla. When I pranked Terry Denman in Mexico with a “smiling mallard” nobody ever dreamed it would become the most talked about decoy of the century. I’ve used Mojo decoys worldwide, everywhere I’ve ever duck hunted from Azerbaijan to Argentina. I absolutely never leave home without one. Mojo Outdoors, forever changing the way you hunt ducks.

BOSS Shotshells copper-plated bismuth-tin alloy is the good ol’ days again. Steel shot’s come a long way in the past 30 years, but we’ll never, ever perform like good old fashioned lead. Say goodbye to all that gimmicky high recoil compensation science hype, and hello to superior performance. Know your pattern, take ethical shots, make clean kills. That is the BOSS Way. The good old days are now.

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Flashback Decoy by Duck Creek Decoy Works. It almost pains me to tell y’all about Duck Creek Decoy Work’s new Flashback Decoy because in  the words of Flashback Decoy inventor Tyler Baskfield, duck hunting gear really is “an arms race.” At my Mississippi camp, his flashback decoy has been a top-secret weapon among my personal bag of tricks. It behaves exactly like a feeding mallard, making slick-as-glass water roil to life. And now that my secret’s out I’ll tell y’all something else: I’ve got 3 of them.

Ducks Unlimited takes a continental, landscape approach to wetland conservation. Since 1937, DU has conserved almost 15 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America. While DU works in all 50 states, the organization focuses its efforts and resources on the habitats most beneficial to waterfowl.

It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks